A little love: a dangerous thing

Seeing as we are in the middle of the Rugby World Cup in this country I thought I would post this little article from the pages of The Evening Post from 22 December, 1927.

So, to recap:

  1. We are thankfully free of professional sport in New Zealand
  2. The desires of spectators are given too much importance
  3. Excessive training and special diets for athletes are silly, and
  4. Top athletes shouldn’t be put on pedestals

I think we can all agree that times have changed.  The problem is that I suspect quite a few people would basically agree with Rev. Crosse.  Even though I am not particularly old I am old enough to remember when the All Blacks first ran out onto the field with a sponsor’s name on their jersey (the All Blacks were proudly brought to us by Steinlager).  Somehow it felt wrong.  Later Canterbury New Zealand were dumped in favour of Adidas.  Games have moved from the afternoon to the evening to maximise TV revenue, many schools have special programmes for their senior athletes that are supposed to direct them into professional sports careers, and the media goes into a frenzy every time Sonny Bill breaks wind.

It’s a funny old thing though.  Professionalism has brought us more entertaining rugby in many ways (faster, more skilful), but at times it is almost less entertaining because of this professionalism.  There wasn’t much that was pretty about a bunch of guys slogging around on muddy fields (remember muddy fields?) to win a scrappy encounter by a single penalty, but it had its charms too.  No sponsors, no elite programmes, no show-boating after you scored a try (“settle down, lad”).

Which is why some provinces still go crazy about the Ranfurly Shield.  Who can forget the match when Auckland won the shield off Canterbury in the 80s, and Robbie Deans seemed like he was going to snatch back victory as he chased a ball that had been kicked through, but the ball scampered away from him and into the crowd?  The crowd as I remember were standing practically on the field.

It was an age when we didn’t have to endure ads by multinational corporations telling us about the history and deep personal meaning of All Black rituals while we watched Dan Carter spray deodorant on his arm pit, or drive an American car, or sell Japanese heat pumps, or ponce around in his undies. 

I suppose it’s the mixed message that is grating.  It was a message I first noticed working for a large(ish) Japanese company.  They preached loyalty and commitment and long hours for the glory of the team, but in any downturn workers were expendable (“it’s not personal; it’s a business decision”).  In the same way All Blacks Inc. and their sponsors want to trade on a proud tradition of honour, loyalty, commitment and amatuerism to sell us stuff.  Which feels a little, well… slimey.

Which I suppose makes me a fuddy-duddy in agreement with a school Headmaster from 1927.  I had better get with the programme.

But the programme is so dull.  Wasn’t it nice when the All Blacks went on tours to England that took a month and they played club teams on little grounds mid-week?  The truly extraordinary thing is that if you watch those old matches the crowds are so civil.  When we took our conversion and penalty kicks the crowd would go silent.  Remember, this is for the opposition.  When the kick went over there would be polite clapping. 

Thankfully, though, the spirit that Rev. Crosse is talking about has not disappeared.  It is still alive and well in our schools.  You can go and see it any weekend on the netball courts and playing fields around New Zealand, where teams of kids play as hard as they can while their parents stand on the sideline and gossip, and the rain sleets in horizontally across the field.  I think if Rev. Crosse saw this he would be a little cheered.

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